Did you know that play is considered a crucial component of cognitive development from birth through adulthood? Think about your favorite games: isn’t it true that you never get tired playing them? Being it hide and seek, puzzles, construction games, board games, there are invisible threads linking our memories, experiences and feelings in connection to playing games and they are all linked to the intrinsic motivation and engagement they trigger in our mind!
A reflection on how playing shapes our learning process and our socio-emotional development was exactly the starting point of the first edition of the course on Gamification and Game-based Learning that took place in Bologna from 1st till 7th of August. Seven participants joined the course: Maria Paula from Universidade de Aveiro in Portugal, Letitia and Cecilia from Liceul de informatica Tiberiu Popoviciu in Romania, Feliciano from IES Pintor Juan Lara in Spain, Valentina, Radoslava and Svetla from Osmo SU ''Arseni Kostentsev'' in Bulgaria and Laura from Younet in Italy. To get to know each other, they created a personalized avatar to share with the other “players” their experiences, contributions and expectations for the course. After reflecting on how learning happens through games, the group explored the most important differences between gamification and game-based learning through an interactive quiz that allowed them to confront with real classroom examples.
The training moved on analyzing the Octalys framework for Gamification. To use the words of our participants “Octalys is for life” as it provides a uniquely complete and universal framework to understand how games drive motivation and engagement. The participant explored this theoretical framework through a practical and game-based approach including a Quest List to accomplish. Finally, the group discovered what are the common type of game users by simulating a role play scenario.
Having acknowledged that maintaining students’ engagement and reigniting their enthusiasm for learning are probably among the main challenges we face as teachers, we asked ourselves: why can’t we take all the fun and engaging elements found in games and applying them to the educational environment? The reply came through a two-day simulation of real-life adventures and experiences. Our participants discovered the benefits of repacking academic content and deliver it through an escape room experience. During a practical session, the trainees were able to test on their own the mechanics behind the creation of an escape room.
Finally, the stage was left to the participants to share their best practices and classroom examples of game-based lessons and activities. We discovered how to create engaging self-study and interactive lesson with Livresq thanks to Cecilia’s contribution, how to transform a simple Padlet into a game-based platform with Letitia’s example, how to create games with Learningapps and Hot Potatoes thanks to Svetla’s contribution and finally how to create an engaging escape room experience thanks to Felix passionate approach to his subject, history.
To leave the final word to our participants… The course was truly helpful to understand the principles of gamification and game-based learning, because I learned how to use tools and apps in a real gamified educational environment.
The Trainer - Sara Natalini
The last and warmest week of July from the 25th till the 31st we hosted a group of teachers eager to take part in the course Creativity for the future: promoting Critical thinking and problem-solving in the classroom. They came to Bologna to share their experiences from different European countries: Maria from Inicijativa za engleski jezik i kulturu in Croatia, Inga from Peetri Lasteaed-Pōhikool in Estonia, Spela from Zavod sv. Stanislava in Slovenia, Catalina and Alina from Liceul de informatica Tiberiu Popoviciu in Romania, Camelia and Simona from Scoala Gimnaziala Nr. 3 Cisnadie in Romania, Claudia from CEDRU Association in Romania, Galina, Iskrena, Gergana, Bilyana and Silviya from Emiliyan Stanev Secondary School in Bulgaria.
The group was confronted with few initial creativity challenges, like turning as many blank circles as possible into recognizable objects, to understand the principles of creative thinking and answer the underlying question: how can we make our teaching more creative and help our students to express their unique points of view? The answer came by practicing multiple tasks and activities like brainstorming, visual exercises, lateral thinking. We learned how even the simplest task, as giving a definition, can be accomplished in a creative way. It is just a matter of challenging ourselves to think out of the box and questioning our assumption to be able to see things from different angles.
It was then time to practice the questioning and debating pedagogies to foster critical and creative thinking skills in the classroom. It was with guessing and speaking games but also with the support of ICT tools that we learned how to apply these traditional pedagogies in a more innovative and engaging way.
The group was then ready to apply and put into practice all the principles and knowledge acquired to engage in challenging problem solving tests and activities. For instance, do you know how to put a giraffe into a refrigerator? The most straightforward would simply open the refrigerator and put the giraffe in, somebody would try to find a very big refrigerator, but the most creative ones would use a giraffe puppet or would take a picture of it and put it in the refrigerator. This and other practical problem solving games tested helped the group acknowledge how sometimes the answer is in front of our eyes or easier than expected, but most of all that everybody perceives reality in a different way, that multiple solutions are possible and we should not be afraid to discover them and use our imagination!
Participants finally shared their emotions about the course that was recommended for school staff that needs a little bit of warm environment, easy ideas, time to express creativity and start a new school year with fresh air in their wings. Because, all in all, the course concluded a lot of different activities in order to fulfill the real goal – think creatively.
The Trainer - Sara Natalini
At the beginning of the course, we asked the participants what their expectations about the training were.
“How to capture the attention of the audience/class?”
“How to plan and prepare a public speech?”
“How to understand the emotions of the students?”
“How to manage a conflict?”
Answering these questions, and many others, was the aim of the teachers participating in the training, which took place from 25/07 to 31/07 in Palermo (Sicily) on public speaking, communication and soft skills.
To achieve these goals was challenging, but thanks to the contribute of each participant, and thanks to the experience that each teacher brought within the group, the content of the course was enriched by the added value of everyone, creating an exchange of strategies and useful tools for classroom management.
We started our journey from discussing the importance of soft and communication skills and how, as teachers, we all have a crucial role in offering to our students the possibility to improve their communication and soft skills. We analysed the most important principles of Neuro-Linguistic Programming and in particular the Watzlawick's axiom that say that “one cannot not communicate”, infact every behavior is a form of communication. Behavior does not have a counterpart (there is no anti-behavior) so it is impossible not to communicate. Even if communication is being avoided (such as the unconscious use of non-verbals or symptom strategy), that is a form of communication. Even if we’re not speaking infact we’re “speaking” with our body language. Participants discovered that only the 7% of our communication is represented by our spoken words meanwhile the 38% of the information is given with our tone of voice and the 55% with our body language.
Like the participants told us, sometimes at school it is difficult to capture students’ attention and motivate them to improve themselves. Guess what? Communication is essential to identify learning’s obstacles and to promote the continuous growth of the students. As we found out together, listening to students’ emotions is the first step to help them to identify new, more constructive and motivating beliefs. For this reason we’ve analysed as well the principles and pillars of emotional intelligence and emotional leadership. In particular we focused on the concept of empathic communication and its 4 elements: see their world, appreciate them as human beings, understand feelings, communicate understanding.
Participants had the chance to discuss and practice the differences between aggressive, passive, passive-aggressive and assertive communication, getting acquainted with the principles of the latter. The participants created a vademecum with the main verbal features of each communication styles (aggressive, passive and assertive). An activity, like many other done during the course that can be replicated and used in the classroom, in this case to define appropriate classroom communication guidelines.
Furthermore, one of the aims of the training was to recognize the different communication channels (verbal, paraverbal and non-verbal) and to be able to manage them productively. Communication is not only about what we say, but also how we say it. The participants learn which mistakes to avoid with their paraverbal and body language communication in particular when delivering a speech. They moreover had the chance to participate in an intensive body language training in order to be able to decode the body language of their audience in addition to be aware of their body language when speaking in public.
During the course the participants learn how to prepare and structure a public speech and especially how to engage the audience.
To work on public speaking the participants were asked to prepare a public speech about a free topic. This exercise was crucial to analyse together which kind of communication strategies each participant used, and their effectiveness in communicating and capturing the attention of the audience. Analysing the body language was the hardest part! In fact, we often focus too much on words, overlooking our body language, risking to send the wrong messages. The participants delivered a 2-minutes public speech that was analysed by the whole group with the support of the trainer. This activity was highly appreciated since gave the participants the possibility to receive personalised feedback on their specch from both the other teachers and especially the trainer.
At the end of the training the participants had the chance to discuss about conflict management and discover how conflicts could be full of beauty and opportunities. The participants identified which words and phrases instigate and defuse conflict and how to speak responsibly in a conflict. The participants learn as well the 3 keys to effective conflict management and the 5 styles to manage a conflict.
There was no lack of cultural activities, the participants had the chance to discover the artistic and colorful landscapes of Palermo, Cefalù and Monreale in addition to networking among themselves and to building a multicultural team!
This training week was an opportunity for the teachers to become aware of them strengths and weaknesses, to improve themselves and to enrich the relationships network through intercultural exchanges.
In the last week of July together with teachers coming from 7 different countries we've explored the world of soft skills and emotional intelligence. It was an intese and interesting journey that enabled participants (and trainers) to discuss about how to capture the attention of the audience/class, how to understand the emotions of the students, how to lead a group, how to manage conflict and how to the students to develop emotional intelligence and soft skills.
During the course we had the chance to explore many of the most important soft skills from communication and public speaking to leadership, from conflict management to emotional intelligence and empathy. Our journey started from analysing the most important principles of Neuro-Linguistic Programming and discussing the importance of going out of our comfort zone. For this reason, we challenged the participants to write down three negative beliefs that had somehow limited their life and to discuss one of them with a random person in the group. In this way, the participants saw how the comparison with another person allows to identify new strategies to overcome a problem or, in another way, to build together a new, more constructive belief. In fact, communicating a difficulty or an obstacle is the first step in identifying strategies to overcome it.
Another topic that was analysed during the training days was how to lead a classroom and a team. To the question "is there one leadership style better than another"? together we found the answer: “No!”
Each leadership style is more or less suitable for different types of situations. Therefore, the participants challenged each other to associate leadership styles with different situations, discovering that each context requires different leadership skills.
Participants had the chance to discuss and practice the differences between aggressive, passive, passive-aggressive and assertive communication, getting acquainted with the principles of the latter. The participants created a vademecum with the main verbal features of each communication styles (aggressive, passive and assertive), in order to be able to use this tool in the classroom to define the communication guidelines.
Furthermore, one of the aims of the training was to recognize the different communication channels (verbal, paraverbal and non-verbal) and to be able to manage them productively. Communication is not only about what we say, but also how we say it. To further work on this topic and on improving public speaking skills the participants delivered a 2-minutes public speech that was analysed by the whole group with the support of the trainer. This activity was highly appreciated since gave the participants the possibility to receive personalised feedback from both the other teachers and especially the trainer.
Lastly, an important issue is conflict management. Through brainstorming, groups of participants tried to identify which kind of words and phrases encourage conflict and, on the other side, which kind of words promote communication and cooperation within a group.In fact, being aware of the consequences of “positive” and “negative” words is the first step in resolving and mediating a conflict, a soft skill that is very important for working with groups of people. Finally, thanks to an education-based role-play simulation the participants had the chance to feel on their skin the different challenges that conflict are posing in education.
To improve emotional intelligence, the teachers were also challenged to associate correct emotions with different kinds of behaviors, in order to train their ability to be aware of their own and others' emotions.
Of course, there was no lack of cultural activities! The artistic and colorful landscapes of Palermo, Cefalù and Monreale enriched the afternoons of the week, allowing participants to get to know each other, to network and to build a multicultural team!
It’s been an intensive week of exploration of... Innovative teaching methods! During our first week of August, we hosted 15 educators from all over Europe! Aušra, Vaida and Jūratė from Marijampolės Sūduvos gymnasium (Lithuania), Dorota and Tomasz from Powiatowy Zespół Szkół Nr 1 Im. Króla Jana Iii Sobieskiego (Poland), Tamara from Inicijativa - Centar za edukaciju (Croatia), Kristīne from Riga Centre language school (Latvia), Francisco Miguel from CDP San Bartolomé (Spain), Maria-Gabriela and Violeta from Association Exe - Expertize for a knowledge based society (Romania), Anja from Zavod sv. Stanislava (Slovenia), Svetlana, Anna, Ēriks and Marina from Liepaja Liedaga secondary school (Latvia).
The four main topics discussed during the week were the following:
PROJECT BASED LEARNING – An introduction to this very recent, innovative and effective teaching approach in which students proceed in the discovery and acquisition of the knowledge by inquiring, investigating and conducting research about a given problem. The positive aspect highlighted by participants about this approach was the fact that by investigating a real world problem, students are able to develop a high level of connection with the topic discussed, and consequently with the learning process. Learning is not perceived as a “duty”, but rather a mean to discover more about the reality around them.
ICT TOOLS – After more than a year of global pandemic which forced many of us to go through a phase of online teaching, we have realised how crucial ICT tools can be in our teaching approach. Getting back in the classes shouldn’t mean that we put all the acquired ICT knowledge behind: it should transition with us, inside our classes, in support of our students. Amongst the tools practiced, we tested Socrative, an app for administering test in a more engaging and efficient way; Mentimeter, a website to create presentation which encourage audience interaction; Quizlet, the perfect tool to study new concepts using digital flashcards sets and strengthening group sprit; and EdPuzzle, the answer to your wandering in case you are looking for a video-lesson creation tool.
NON FORMAL EDUCATION – The power of the Non Formal Education approach has been already proven in length and breadth. In this session, we focused on how to bring the Non Formal approach into the formal education system, and tested some of the tools which can be useful in class with our students, to make our lessons more engaging and effective.
OUTDOOR EDUCATION – Following the trail opened by Non Formal Education, we then explored the basic concepts of Outdoor Education and applied the approach in an urban setting. We explored Bologna city centre by taking pictures, pay attention to details around us, describing monuments, reading about fun facts and curiosities, counting natural elements, answering to quizzes, interacting with local people, interpreting Roman writings and overall, learning about the people and the places that make Bologna what it is. Precisely the Outdoor Education mindset!
By Friday, team spirit was so high that it was difficult to say goodbye. On the other hand, each person in the group was very eager to go back and start applying all the many ideas that emerged during the course. Another great week of inspiration was over, but only to be continued back in Lithuania, Latvia, Romania, Spain, Croatia, Slovenia and Poland!
After sharing their expectations, contributions, and fears, they started to discuss what a Supportive Classroom is like. The teachers shared their opinions based on their experience from the school routine. One of the most interesting topic for them was the relevance of Social Emotional Learning in creating a supportive classroom and the importance of teaching our students about Emotional Intelligence, a concept developed in great details by D. Goleman. We explored the 5 pillars of EI: self-awareness, self-control, self-motivation, social skills and empathy. During the practical exercises, they created awareness maps, worked as “emotional investigators” to feel other person emotions and feelings, and practiced their empathic communication.
Later on, the group moved to the topic of Group Dynamics, another essential detail to look after when strengthening Classroom Management skills. There were discussed supportive classroom settings with the funniest membership and collaborative activities, which were evaluated as helpful and valuable both for school and everyday life. Besides that, exercises about growth mindset was a big part of practical language activities. Then, the group explored several Differentiating Instruction methods: our participants spent the day reflecting how to make their lessons more interesting, cooperation with pupils more productive and how to create a motivating environment for everyone by analyzing 4 elements of teaching: content, product, process and environment.
Then it was time to practice different ICT tools, an essential support to a Flipped Classroom approach. They had the opportunity to test one tool for video lessons, one tool for studying and revising concepts and one final tool to share interesting resources in a more engaging way. One the last day, we delved in Conflict Management conversations, specifically how to approach the conflict and communicate during the conflict. Teachers concluded the part by putting to test their conflict management skills taking part in a role play. To celebrate the ending of our week together, the group made a summarizing collage which presented everything they learnt during this active and effective week of training.
From the 11th to 17th of June, our course “Dual education and work-based learning” took place in Bologna. 6 teachers from Liceul Technologic Special Vasile Pavelcu (which specialises in students with deafness and other minor disabilities) and Liceul Technologic Nr.1 (specialised in food technology areas), both from Romania, came with the common goal of “making the best for their students”.
After a cultural tour around the medieval city centre of Bologna and tasting the local cuisine, they were ready to immerse into dual education and work-based learning. They had the chance to present themselves and the role they have in their schools, so that the course could be adapted to their necessities. Afterwards, they were able to learn what dual education is, its history in Germany but also the differences with the education system in Italy: two different ways of dual education and work based learning, and so many more opportunities!
During the week they could learn about the different models in which dual education can be implemented and the role of the companies, as well as creating together a checklist to find new partners for our school, taking as an example two Bolognese schools that have been collaborating with Ferrari and Lamborghini for almost 10 years to give students the opportunity to learn and practice in a big company, improving their employability at the end of the course.
On Thursday, the teachers had the opportunity to hear the experience of Paulina Walacik, transnational WBL coordinator of IFOM, a social enterprise that support the transnational work based learning of thousands of students each year. With Ms. Walacik they could understand the advantage that a WBL experience abroad can offer: learning a new language, becoming more independent, managing their own budget and getting to know a different culture and work environment. They also met Francesca Fava, Stefania Sabella and Irene Lucisano teachers and managers of FOMAL, a vocational and professional school where education and work are in synergy, providing a 360º learning to their students and real professional abilities and opportunities. Thanks to them, now the participants got to know good and innovative practice in the field of dual education and work based learning.
Finally, they could work together on a plan to implement dual education in their schools back in Romania, with a new and bigger network here in Italy to send some students for their internships. After a goodbye dinner and a last trip to Venice, they left full of inspiration, ideas and tools to start implementing these new methods in their own schools.
This is the question that guided our 10 participants during the course “Soft Skills and emotional intelligence for teacher and educational staff”, which took place from 04/07 to 10/07 in Puerto de la Cruz, in the amazing island of Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands.
After a long journey to arrive there from all over Europe, the participants had the opportunity to meet each others: Susanne, Cornelia and Juliane from a secondary school in Austria, Tsvetomira and Teodora from a kindergarden in Bulgaria, Ilias, Georgios, Ilias and Aikaterini from an evening secondary school in Greece, and Anna from a secondary school in Estonia.
In the beginning, the group explored the broad concept of Soft Skills, the interpersonal skills which allow us to interact with other people. By investigating the topic with activities and exercises, the group discovered that Emotional intelligence plays a crucial roles in developing our interpersonal skills. Practicing activities of self-awareness, self-control, self-motivation, building social relationships and empathy with our students it’s a critical step in order to enhance their capacities to recognize emotions and act consequently, both with themselves and other people, and our 10 colleagues tested some concrete examples on how to do it.
Then, we dedicated time to explore the topic of Leadership and teamwork. By reflecting on the characteristic of great leaders, the group investigated the main leadership styles, distinguishing when it is appropriate to use each of them and eventually coming up with ideas and suggestions on how to develop each style. By using some role-play activities, each person was able to contribute to sharing knowledge about what makes a good leader, especially in relation with his/her team. Finally, the participants woke up their creative side when they were asked to portrait the characteristics which transform a group in a great team. A real success!
After that, we focused our attention on Communication styles: Aggressive, Passive, Passive/Aggressive and Assertive. Communication is not simply important, communication is everything. For this reason, I wanted my participants to investigated each style of communication in great details: first by analysing some case studies and exploring the emotions each style can trigger, then watching some videos, recognising clues which help us recognize a style among the others. As a result, the groups was able to determine typical goals, beliefs, looks, actions and feelings which characterize each style. After a successful morning of work, the rest of the day was dedicated to cultural activities, a tour which took some of our participants in the most beautiful and remote places of interest around the island.
Toward the end of the week, we started to feel the hard-work of the previous days was catching up with us, but the curiosity and the willingness to improve the skills was the fuel feeding our engines and this guaranteed another great day of training. This time, the topic was Non Verbal Language and Public Speaking. Did you know that 55% of what you communicated passes through your body language, and only 7% by your words? By analyzing photos and videos of positive and negative body postures, gestures and facial expressions, the groups was thrilled to have learned to read body language. We concluded the day by investigating the topic of Public Speaking: things to do and not do, to say and not say, and how crucial the audience’s role is in all of this.
Have you ever asked yourself if all conflicts are bad? How can we find beauty in conflicting situation? These are the key questions that guided our reflection on Conflict Management. Learning how to manage a conflict, and understanding other people’s reaction and interactions in a conflicting situation can be a valuable asset in order to gain something positive out of it, instead of feeling overwhelming stress.
To conclude our course, I asked my beautiful group to use again their creative skills to express their emotions: 10 pieces of art were created and presented, each of them highlighting different aspects of what they appreciated the most about the week, all of them with one thing in common: the happiness of feeling something had changed, and that new seeds were planted in their minds. Now it’s time to nurture them, and wait for the fruits.
The course was really appreciated by the teachers: “The course was very well structured, useful and interesting. The mentor is wonderful!”
The trainer, Giulia Zambon
Week 5-11 of July. Nine teachers from different countries are together to take a course on a common topic useful to all: stress and conflict management. The group is very heterogeneous: the teachers come from CEIP San Miguel in Spain, BGSZC Hunfalvy János Két Tanítási Nyelvű Közgazdasági Technikum and Fényi Gyula Jezsuita Gimnázium és Kollégium in Hungary, Tallinn School No 21 in Estonia and KCVJŠ in Czech Republic. After a day dedicated to the discovery of Bologna’s city center and the delicious typical dishes of Italian cuisine, the trainer Francesco introduced them to the main topic of the course and they started to get to know each other through some practical activities.
During the week they learned how stress can affect us on different levels and what we need to do to help our students: they tried to find good and bad practices to manage stress through a lot of practical activities, such as breathing exercises and visualization. They also thought about the importance of time management, especially for the students.
OnTuesday evening they also had the opportunity to climb the Asinelli tower in Bologna: 498 steps for a breathtaking view of the city from above.
The topic of resilience was also investigated: after a brainstorming about what this word can mean, they spent some time exploring their values and their self: understanding what is important in our life and what we love to do the most.
A tour of Florence, which ended with a typical dinner, was the perfect ending to a long day!
The teachers explored as well the topic of gratitude: how important it is to express it? Some “homework” was then assigned to them in order to apply what they have learned to their everyday life. They also delved into healthy eating and daily exercise. In the evening the teachers attended the final dinner together: gnocchi and tortellini were very popular and left a wonderful memory of Italian food.
In the end the last day was about conflict management: why conflicts arise and what we can do to see them as learning opportunities. Thanks to role plays and other practical activities the focus was on how to resolve conflicts within the classroom and how to make the most of them.
After the certification ceremony, the teachers were ready for a new trip out of town to discover Ferrara.
The participants truly appreciate the course and the tools acquired: “The course is very helpful, not only theoretical but also practical. We learned a lot of techniques that can be used in everyday life as well as work”.
We know they will be able to teach their students what they have learned here!
Have you ever been positively intimidated by how great, powerful, secret and mystical nature can be? Have your thoughts and feeling ever been inspired by some great urban or natural views, when you were visiting a city or maybe walking barefoot on the beach? If you have (and I am pretty sure at some point in your life you did), you know how good it can make you feel.
Surely, contact with the outdoor has a considerable positive impact on the cognitive, behavioural and emotional development of human beings since prehistory. So, how can we bring this into our classes, or rather better: how can we take our classes into the outdoor?
During our training course in Tenerife from 27/06 to 03/07, Kristina (from Osnovna šola Marije Vere, Slovenia), Ulrike and Verena (from BG Rein, Austria), Evgeniya, Polina and Kapka (from Kindergarten "Bratya Grimm", Bulgaria), Agnieszka, Grażyna and Krzysztofa (from Szkola Podstawowa nr 4 Mysłowice, Poland) and Magdalena (from Šolski center Postojna, Slovenia) tried to reply to this guiding question by exploring different aspects of Outdoor Education.